Turtle, Ecuador

Your words, not ours

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Your Words - We tell it like it is! Holiday Reviews by previous Exodus travellers  

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  • Reviewed December 2009
    Anonymous

    CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: PERTISAU

    This holiday was absolutely outstanding: one of the three or four best in my life. In terms of cross-country skiing holidays, it ranks for sheer enjoyment with the first cross-country skiing holiday I had twenty years ago, spent with Exodus's predecessor Waymark. Like that holiday, snow conditions were not as good as experienced on other vacations in between. As sometimes happens shared difficulties leads to greater challenge, improvisation, hilarity and group spirit, as my fellow holiday makers and I slithered and stopped, crashed, fell over got up again, and got better against worsening conditions as the week went on, the sun shone, and the track went from polished ice in the mornings to slush punctuated by dung, soil from mole hills, tree branches and fir cones in the afternoon. I have to say that team spirit always seems to improve faster in grade 1 beginners, for whom the novelty of this unnatural form of personal transport known as langlaufing has not worn off. The excitement of mastering a bike for the first time is similar. Grade 2's can be slightly blasé about it. Above grade 2, possibly that focus on distance travelled, and personal bests, would make me feel uncomfortable amongst other participants, just as when I ran two half marathons for fun, health and charity, and found myself sharing changing facilities with skinny, intense, (and frequently bald), men talking obsessively about 'PBs'.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The last day's descent of about two miles which I did without falling and under some control. Followed by two gluhweins at a local cafe at the foot of the run, which turned aching legs of jelly to warm mush, in the pleasant company of my fellow Grade 1 skiers.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    After day one. I demoted myself to Grade 1, after asking the two holiday leaders. I had met, Albert Callewaert, the leader of Grade 1 about 13 years previously. Throughout the week, I became more and more impressed by his quiet, patient and thoughtful leadership style. He was a good observer of our strengths and failings, and gave individuals, the encouragement and modifications to their technique which helped them. Albert was also very good at selecting the ground to match our abilities, increasing the challenge as the week went on. At the pace he set, there was time for the slower members to catch up, and time for everyone to enjoy the picturesque local scenery, and observe the local wildlife. Albert was easy to approach, friendly and a pleasure to be with. I am pleased to say that both our leaders joined us at table, and organised and participated in the other entertainments of the week.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    If you've got the money, the stamina, the exuberance, don't mind the cold (nowhere near as bad as Norway) and can take the odd knock from falling over, then take this holiday. You won't find better. You should find interesting holiday companions from the tour and congenial fellow hotel guests. Don't accept the skis the shop first gives you. Ask for shorter ones to improve control at the expense of speed. If you lose a bit a of glide, then the extra exercise is good. Crashing because you can't control the skis going out of control downhill is bad. It's painful and demoralising.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    This holiday was absolutely outstanding: one of the three or four best in my life. In terms of cross-country skiing holidays, it ranks for sheer enjoyment with the first cross-country skiing holiday I had twenty years ago, spent with Exodus's predecessor Waymark. Like that holiday, snow conditions were not as good as experienced on other vacations in between. As sometimes happens shared difficulties leads to greater challenge, improvisation, hilarity and Gruppegeist, as my fellow holiday makers and I slithered and stopped, crashed, fell over got up again, and got better against worsening conditions as the week went on, the sun shone, and the track went from polished ice in the mornings to slush in the afternoon. The ice and slush were punctuated by dung, soil from mole hills, tree branches and fir cones. I have to say that team spirit always seems to improve faster in grade 1 beginners, for whom the novelty of this unnatural form of personal transport known as langlaufing has not worn off. The excitement of mastering a bike for the first time is similar. Grade 2's can be slightly blasé about it. Above grade 2, possibly that focus on distance travelled, and personal bests, would make me feel uncomfortable amongst other participants, as I used to when I ran two half marathons for fun and health. Aside from the skiing in a variety of attractive locations, under sunny skies, sometimes served by a good local public bus service, with a chance to talk to my fellow passengers, many of them also skiers, in a mixture of my pidgin German, and their better English. I even had a coversation which consisted largely of naming English lawnmower brands to a Honda power garden products representative. I should like to analyse what made this holiday so good. 1. My fellow holidaymakers. I went on holiday on my own. My wife mastered the basics of skiing on oversized toothpicks, with old fashioned 'slide off and twist your ankle bindings' about 18 years ago. Technically she was much better than me: better balance, better control, more physically able to twist her legs into the snow plough position. However she hates cold. She hates falling. She isn't too keen on exercise, or aeroplanes or airports either. So I travelled alone. This makes you keener to make friends on holiday, and more willing to talk to and to listen to strangers, you should meet. I am delighted to say that my fellow holidaymakers were not only friendly, but interesting to talk to as well. Many were well qualified in a variety of professions, and brought a variety of experience outside work to the table as well. They were articulate, relaxed, self-confident, and amusing, just the sort of people you would want to take as friends on holiday. 2. Leadership. After day one. I demoted myself to Grade 1, after asking the two holiday leaders. I had met, Albert, the leader of Grade 1 about 13 years previously. Throughout the week, I became more and more impressed by his quiet, patient, thoughtful, gentlemanly leadership style. He was a good observer of our strengths and failings, and gave individuals, the encouragement and modifications to their technique which helped them. Albert was also very good at selecting the ground to match our abilities, increasing the challenge as the week went on. At the pace he set, there was time for the slower members to catch up, and time for everyone to enjoy the picturesque local scenery, and observe the local wildlife. Albert was easy to approach, friendly and a pleasure to be with. I am pleased to say that both our leaders joined us at table, and organised and participated in the other entertainments of the week. 3. Skis. After floundering on the slightest uphill rise with no grip on day one, I changed the skis to a much shorter and wider pair, which were more controllable, and slower downhill and on the flat. The shop were very helpful, but a little sceptical that these skis would be sufficient to support my weight for gliding. I did not glide perfectly, but this was more than offset by the better kick down grip I got from the standing leg. Going uphill was easier than ever before, even than when I was twenty years younger and twenty kilos lighter. 4. Hotel. Here I wish to contradict the views expressed by Susan Scott-Green about the Kristall Hotel, Pertisau. Like her I had a single room. It was simply the finest single room I have ever stayed in anywhere. It was room 109, like the Messerschmidt World War II fighter, an easy number to remember. I try not to think of the war in German speaking countries, but often fail. The room had a huge amount of hanging space, a double bed, separate toilet, and shower with wash basin room, and large lounge area, with substantial desk and armchairs, leading to a balcony with table and chairs and views across a snow covered field to the church and the downhill slopes beyond. The sound insulation was good. The heating was not controllable, and up too high, but this was useful for drying clothes, and could be offset wastefully by opening the balcony doors. Mostly as a single traveller, I have been stuck in cubby holes down in the basement next to the boiler, or roof space so slopingly narrow, it should be reserved solely for bats, but not here. The hotel provided such luxuries as free dressing gowns, and slippers (a gift), and separate towels for sitting on and for drying off in the luxurious spa suite, with a swimming pool so large you could swim more than the usual two strokes that you get from the length of the normal "yes we have a swimming pool", tick in the box swimming pool that is common in three star hotels. This was a proper four star swimming pool. My only criticism is that the jacuzzi feature in the middle of it was on too often for swimming. It acted like that Bermuda triangle geological feature, where turbulent gas bubble release produces catastrophic effects on buoyancy, known as a sinking feeling. There were two saunas, two steam rooms, one with smells and flashing leds, which were pretty, and new age music which was dire. This is Austria. Austrians have a great musical heritage: Mozart, Haydn and the Strausses. Play them please Like much of the German speaking world, the saunas were mixed. Both sexes were usually completely naked. I did not find it as hard (to control myself) as when I was twenty years younger, but mixed nudity with strangers may come as a surprise to the shy, sheltered and modest. The food was plentiful, and outstandingly good. Unlike all other country-skiing holidays bar one, I did not have to go to bed feeling hungry, or wake up in the night feeling so hungry that I could chew the soap, the furniture, and yesterday's underwear. On past holidays, waitresses began to appear not so much pretty as edible. Service at the Kristall was not only efficient, but always friendly. Smiles were answered with like. I try to be nice to hotel staff. They have to be friendly and efficient, and put their own worries behind them, often have difficult people and situations to deal with. I thought the staff at the Crystal were outstanding - reception, bar staff, cooks, cleaners, all of them. The hotel was scrupulously clean. On occasion the serving staff dressed in local costume. One of the waitresses looked stunning in her dirndl, but I forced myself to avert my gaze when she leaned over my table. One evening, local entertainers came and played a variety of traditional Austrian, and more widely known popular tunes such as Lili Marlene, on folk instruments for us to sing along to. I should also mention that some of the Exodus guests had been coming for several years to the Kristall, so that like me, they were of a different opinion from Ms Scott-Green as well. 5. Entertainment Some of us went to an evening of folksy entertainment at the local cross country ski centre, with electric guitar, accordion and drums playing popular Austrian tunes, beer and dancing. Forget subtlety, sophistication, English diffidence and reserve. Please pitch in. Dance, clap hands, link arms and sway at the table just like the locals, it was enjoyable. As the German philosopher of Dionysian exuberance, Nietzsche would say: "Up for it. Go for it" I haven't had as much fun at dance since I was at school. Above all join in with the singing of "ein Prosit zu Gemuetlichkeit", a toast to warmth, friendship and congeniality. It was unsophisticated and fun. We also went and played ninepins at a local hotel. A nice evening of friendly competition. The last day I spent on the pleasant sun terrace of the hotel sharing two bottles of wine with a most convivial and witty couple of my fellow holidaymakers. It was a delight, lang loafing par excellence. 6. Flights: On time coming back. Journey shorter than expected. Unexpected meal served at no charge both ways. Meal was unexpectedly edible as well. Leg room was inadequate on the way back. It was not a problem on the flight to Austria because I had a seat next to the emergency exit. Please publish any or all of my report on your website. I wish to counter the unfavourable impressions of the hotel by Susan Scott-Green.
  • Reviewed December 2009
    Anonymous

    A TASTE OF EGYPT

    Excellent itinery gave a good feel for the history of Egypt.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Visitng Abu Simbel, the valley of the kings and the Pyramids at Giza with the Sphinx.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Fantastic guide who was an egyptologist and knew his subject well.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Good way to see the highlights of Egypt.Drink bottled water!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The ovenight train was an experience but was very late on both journeys. I would suggest considering flying from Aswan back to Cairo as we nearly missed out visit to the Pyramids a Giza as the train was 8 hours late.
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    SINAI TREK

    An excellent trip with superb guides. Although the trip notes were revised (following previous customer feedback) they bore little resemblence to the far superior schedule we enjoyed. Our two guides (Mahmoud & Awad) were thoughtful, attentive and constantly made sure that all walking was at the appropriate level for the group and that everything was to our satisfaction wherever possible. I would suggest that Exodus give some thought to changing flights to Sharm rather than Cairo to reduce travel time between Cairo and Sinai and further enhance the holiday.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    For the unitiated such as myself, it would have been helpful for recommendations from exodus to pack items such as a blow up mattress, dry shampoo, a bladder and a head torch rather than just specifying "torch"

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Exodus need to re-write their trip notes so that they truly reflect the holiday which was far superior than they suggested. Their UK staff also need to be better informed about all aspects of the holiday.
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    BHUTAN: LAYA TREK

    Bhutan was a stunning country that I would recommend to any traveller. From a Trek standpoint the Laya trek was a strenuous walk through some of the best, unspoilt Himalayan scenery I believe is available anywhere - a MUST see for the fit trekker.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Cresting the first pass, at 4800m and seeing the Himalayan peaks before me. The entire range forming the border between Bhutan and Tibet was a breathtaking view. Having just struggled to the top of the pass the vista was an inspirational reward.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    We were lucky enough to have two Group Leaders. Pusan and Yeshi were decisive when required, patient enough for the slowest in the group and always quick to spot eagles and blue sheep, ensuring the whole group maximised the experience.We also had the joy of Yeshi showing us the cultural sights of Bhutan before (in Paro) and after (in Thimphu) the trek.Maintaining Pusan, before and after the trek, as a contact in Kathmandu also helped.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    With many nights at or above 4000m carefully consider your evening clothing. Temperatures plummit when the sun goes down at around 5pm, regularly dipping below -10degC.I hired a down jacket for £30 from the team in Kathmandu and was delighted that I had, as it kept me warm during dinner, and formed an extra sleeping bag layer at night. Well worth the money if you don;t already have something similar.Although the trip notes do mention, take special heed of the advise to take earplugs. On a couple of nights we found that the local dog population had decided to have a party. Those without earplugs found it difficult to find a barking gap long enough to fall asleep.Laya valley was clearly very badly affected by flooding earlier in 2009. Rebuilding of bridges and paths is well underway, but when we passed there were sections that were only passable with care. If you don't wish to get wet feet you may want to double check that this section is complete before leaving.Finally on the newly built road from Gaza - DON'T LOOK DOWN

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Hotels in Buhtan were fantastic.Royal Singi Hotel in Kathmandu is good, but not in the same league as Bhutan.Donkey's out of Paro were excellent, very professional. Yak drivers who stayed till Laya were magnificent, and we found them to be very friendly. Unfortunately the donkey team from Laya were less well organised, they got there but I believe only with the help of some of our cook team.Cook and trek staff were magic, an ideal blend of good (sometimes surprising) local cusine, and excellent service. I hope that your team is the same...
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    Jorda tour

    Good trip if a bit shepherded at times.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Petra and Petra by moonlight - absolutely stunning and worth the trip solely for that. Having 2 days in Petra really made a difference.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    OK but not very keen to assist those of us who wanted to go off by ourselves. Excellent historical knowledge of the sites though.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    If you're fit and able, try entering Petra via Wadi Muthlim on day 2 of your time their - magical! Take a good headtorch for the desert and don't expect a romantic Bedouin experience. Only a few blankets so you need a good sleeping bag.  Buy your own lunches - the organised ones are really expensive and you can get falafel from the local bakeries for about 50p! Wear conservative clothes, even on the beach. Don't take the Red Sea boat trip - it's rubbish. Go to the Royal Dive Club instead - you can swim and snorkel from their private jetty and see all the same marine life for half the price.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Would have liked a more 'authentic' camping experience in Wadi Rum - the camp was nothing like a 'traditional' Bedouin camp, although I appreciate that any 'authentic' Bedouin encounter will be staged I would have liked a proper campfire, food cooked over it (rather than brought in by Jeep) and candles rather than a diesel generator!The public beach at the Dead Sea was pretty disgusting - I would have paid extra to experience the sea at a decent hotel with a litter-free beach.The Red Sea 'snorkelling trip' was a complete rip-off. We rode round about 20m off shore for about 15 mins then moored a long way from any sea life and were given no info on the marine environment whatsoever. The boat trip was very heavily plugged by our guide but those that went to the Royal Dive Club on shore instead had a better snorkelling experience for half the price.
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    Japan Ancient & Modern

    Plenty of variety with a good mix of group and personal time to do your own thing.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Spending time photographing the 'Snow Monkeys' at Yakunada was a great experience. But, in contrast, we also enjoyed wondering around Kyoto with the mix of modern (the station) and ancient (loads of temples) buildings.The island near Hiroshima (Mijame?) with the giant Torii Gate in the sea is a great place - whish there was more time there.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Take plenty of memory cards if your into photography. They don't cost less in Japan and when you get opportunities like photograping the monkeys bathing in the hot thermal pools you will need that extra space for your images.Consider taking a monopod. Many temples won't let you use flash or a tripod and the interiors can get quite dark.  If you want an alternative to 'green tea' in the hotels then take some tea bags or coffee sachets with you.There is so much to see and do in Kyoto and Tokyo. Research before you go, the places you may want to see that aren't already included in the itinerary. That way you will be able to maximise the time available on your 'free days'

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    This is a good tour if you want to experience Japan and see both rural and city life. The hotel at Kyoto was excellent and the nights at the Ryokans was definitely an experience worth having.
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    EVEREST IN LUXURY

    An excellent introduction to trekking in the Himalayas, with the opportunity for good views of Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam and other high mountains.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing Mt Everest and numerous 20K+ ft peaks. The warm hospitality of the Nepalese people.Seeing a society functioning without motor cars.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    The tour leader had excellent organisational skills, everything ran to schedule.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Though most accomodation is ensuite don't expect warm showers (warm water is dependant on sunshine each day). Accomodation in Namche (1 night) was, for us, markedly lower standard than on the rest of the trek where the accomodation was comfortable and the staff very hospitable. For those 'newbies' to trekking at moderate altitude, the air is a little thin but the actual effort required for most days is no more than the average Lake District hill climb. There are lots of steps on the trek - so good training preparation would involve steps; good testing ground would be ascending Hellvellyn from Swirls (Thirlmere) - if you're comfortable doing that, you should find each day on this trek no more strenuous.If you can plan some of your training walks to end with an uphill, then that will be in keeping with the pattern of most of the trek days.Bottled water is available on trek but consuming from this source is not eco-friendly.Tap water need filtering and decontaminating - we found 'Aquapure Traveller' bottles simple to use.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    You are likely to have free time in Kathmandu; if you've not been before --  the cremation ghats at Pashputinath are facinating if macabre; a taxi ride to Bhaktapur village 15m east of Kathmandhu, steeped with ancient temples and Newari achitecture, is a welcome breather from the noise, pollution and concrete jungle of Kathmandhu. Good restaurant in Thamel - Helena's - good views from 7th story terrace, safe tasty inexpensive food.
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    TIBET EXPLORER

    It was a good trip, though i thought slightly long, the camping was unnecesary as there seemed accomodation within a few km of where we camped. This meant we spent longer putting up and taking down tents than we did in using the proximity of the locale to see anything.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Without doubt the views of Everest and the Himalayas

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Did well for the group in getting good flight seats and seemed to put the group first.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Just the normal warnings about Altitude, cold and Chinese toilets
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    THE TURQUOISE COAST

    This was my first Exodus holiday and my first group holiday travelling alone, so I wasn't sure what to expect. But I needn't have worried; it was a great experience thanks to the wonderful setting and the excellent local guide, Alison. It was also my first time in Turkey and I was very impressed: great food, beautiful scenery, friendly people and, of course, wonderful weather. Kas is a great town, with real character.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The sea-kayaking was great, although I have to admit I was concentrating too hard on staying up right to actually see any ruins under the sea!Also watching the sun set from one of the bars in Kas, drinking cocktails and enjoying the company of other members of the group.And getting up in the morning to eat breakfast outside at the hotel, surrounded by bright pink bougainvillea and pomegranate trees laden with ripe fruit.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Alison, the group leader, was great. Approachable, extremely knowledgeable and fun. She had some really interesting insights into cultural differences between the UK and Turkey. She was also very skilled at managing a group with a fairly wide age range and differing fitness levels.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    This trip is rated moderate, but really I would say it was easy. None of the walks was more than four hours, with plenty of time given for breaks and not a lot of exertion, although at times it was quite uneven under foot so lightweight walking boots are a good idea rather than trainers. Cover up for the sun is definitely needed - even in late September when I went.Check out the great jewellery shops in Kas.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    I had a really great holiday and will definitely be travelling again with exodus.
  • Reviewed November 2009
    Anonymous

    ISLAND PEAK

    Exceeded my expectations. Very well organised with really good local staff. Not for the faint-hearted, a very demanding trek even if you can cope with the altitude but just a wonderful experience.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Just being in the Khumbu region to see such magnificent scenery and see at first hand the lives of local people. Oh yes, and summiting at over 20,000ft!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Very good, coped with everything very well and maintained a very happy team.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be fit enough if you want to get the most from this trek and have the right gear, the hire equipment was not good.
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